Celebrating holidays on a smaller scale

Concerns about large gatherings may lead to changes in expectations for this year’s Thanksgiving and other holiday celebrations. How can we downsize our guest list and meal spread — and maximize the enjoyment to prioritize everyone’s safety?

If your large celebration is now going to be an intimate gathering, you may want to consider the location. A large dining room table may add to the loneliness instead of the joy, so make it cozy by sitting at a kitchen table, or counter or even a card table.

Dress up the place settings to make dinner feel special. If your typical Thanksgiving or holiday celebration has you preparing for days in advance, consider quality over quantity. What are your absolute must-haves? And what are you willing to do without?

As you plan your holiday meal, consider these tips:

— Set realistic goals.

— Focus on traditions.

— Consider a brunch

— Host a Zoom dinner.

— Try a new spin on turkey.

— Play up the sides — see recipes below.

[READ: Safe Thanksgiving During the COVID-19 Pandemic.]

Set Realistic Goals

Sara Haas, a Chicago-based registered dietitian nutritionist with formal culinary training, mentions that you need to set realistic expectations and goals for your meal. Maybe you choose a toned-down version and just make a few of your favorites.

For example, buy a rotisserie chicken but make your grandma’s famous mashed potatoes and your aunt’s cranberry relish. Then fill in the gaps with easy stuff like roasted veggies. She suggests that you make the recipes with the intention of freezing leftovers to enjoy another time. You may want to opt for a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey — smaller in size but just as delicious.

For desserts, she suggests that instead of a whole pumpkin pie, make mini pies or roasted apples with cinnamon and a little whipped cream.

Focus on Traditions

Andrew Dole, a chef and registered dietitian in Castlerock, Colorado, suggests focusing on family traditions that showcase heritage meals that must make an appearance. He also suggests going heavy on appetizers that can be made in advance such as tortellini and pesto skewers or perhaps a meat, cheese, fruit and vegetable board.

Dole also recommends choosing recipes that get better the next day, so you can make them in advance and then reheat. Yams, cranberry sauce, stuffing and even turkey stored in broth are even more delicious the next day.

[READ: Air Fryer Recipes for the Holidays.]

Consider a Brunch

Rosanne Rust, a Florida-based author and registered dietitian nutritionist, who also blogs at Chew the Facts, suggests that in lieu of a large family dinner consider starting a new tradition by hosting a smaller brunch for close friends or family.

Brunch takes less time so the “togetherness” is still fun, but unlike larger dinner gatherings, it doesn’t go on all day. Brunch is also less expensive and still offers the opportunity to get together for good conversation and laughter

Host a Zoom Dinner

Elizabeth Ward, a Boston-based RD, says, “we plan to use Zoom to ‘dine’ with our friends and family that we usually have at our house on Thanksgiving. I think it’s important to stick with as many holiday rituals as possible, so that’s why I will be making all the same side dishes, only in smaller portions.”

If you can’t cut a recipe down, make the full amount and freeze what you’re not going to use.

Try a New Spin on Turkey

When it comes to what you serve, how can you size easily? For a new spin on turkey, instead of — or in addition to — roasting a turkey breast or whole turkey, make a meatloaf with ground turkey, lots of veggies and whole-grain breadcrumbs, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, a NYC-based registered dietitian.

She says that because many people are having smaller gatherings, if any, throwing a 20-pound bird in the oven may not be in the plan. This turkey mini-meatloaf recipe is a hit throughout the year, and it’s easy to bake a batch and freeze for post-holiday meals.

[See: 7 Healthy Ways to Gobble Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey.]

Play up the Sides: 3 Recipes

Thanksgiving isn’t just about the turkey but also the sides.

Roasted Honey-Orange Carrots

Beth Stark, a registered dietitian for Weis markets, a mid-Atlantic-based supermarket chain, recommends these roasted honey orange carrots, which bring the sunshine to the table. And the recipe can be cut in half, depending on the number of guests.

Prep. time: 15 minutes.

Cook time: 35 to 40 minutes.

Serves: 6 (½-cup serving).


— 2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut on a diagonal into 2-inch wide pieces.

— 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil.

— ¼ cup pure honey.

— 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice.

— ½ teaspoon orange zest.

— ¼ teaspoon sea salt.

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange carrots on large, rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil; toss to coat.

2. Roast carrots 30 minutes until tender, stirring once halfway through.

3. Whisk honey, orange juice and orange zest in small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently until sauce thickens slightly, about 5 to 10 minutes; remove from heat and set aside. Makes about ¼ cup.

4. Pour sauce over carrots; season with salt and serve.

Ginger Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes can be super easy with this delicious recipe from Cincinnati-based registered dietitian Lisa Andrews.


— 4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed.

— ½ — ¾ cup orange juice.

— 1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon.

— 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger or 2 tsp. minced ginger/paste.

— 1 tsp. vanilla.

— ¼ cup pecans or walnuts (optional).


1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot until soft.

2. Drain the potatoes and add orange juice, cinnamon, ginger and vanilla.

3. Mash the potatoes until soft with a ricer or hand mixer.

4. Add chopped pecans or walnuts and serve.

Makes 8 (½-cup) servings.

Lemon-Roasted Asparagus

Sometimes the ingredient list and preparation time for the sides is much more complicated than the main course. Toby Amidor, a NYC-based registered dietitian and author of “The Best 3-Ingredient Cookbook,” suggests recipes that aren’t complicated and use few ingredients to make shopping and preparation easier. And they’re great for turkey pairing and small-scale sharing.


— 2 tablespoons olive oil.

— 2 lemons, 1 juiced and 1 sliced.

— 2 cloves garlic, minced.

— ¼ teaspoon salt.

— ? teaspoon ground black pepper.

— 1 bunch asparagus (1 pound), washed and trimmed.


1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, garlic, salt, and black pepper. Add the asparagus and toss to evenly coat.

3. Spread the asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet. Top with the lemon slices.

4. Place the sheet pan in the oven and roast until the asparagus is slightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes, tossing halfway through.

5. Serve warm.

Just because your Thanksgiving meal may look and feel a little different doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. Focus on those you are thankful for, how you choose to meal share — in real or Zoom time — and stay safe and well.

More from U.S. News

How to Control Thanksgiving Feasting

Thanksgiving on a Gluten-Free, Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

Keto-Friendly Thanksgiving Meal Ideas

Celebrating Holidays on a Smaller Scale originally appeared on usnews.com

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